Flamingo, Andean

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Flamingo, Andean

Phoenicoparrus andinus

phylum: Chordata

class: Aves

order: Ciconiiformes

family: Phoenicopteridae

status: Vulnerable, IUCN

range: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru

Description and biology

Flamingos are tall wading birds. They have long legs, a long curved neck, and distinctive pink plumage (covering of feathers). The birds move gracefully, whether walking or flying. The Andean flamingo stands 40 to 43.5 inches (102 to 110.5 centimeters) tall and weighs 4.4 to 5.3 pounds (2 to 2.4 kilograms).

The flamingo has a stocky bill that curves downward. Thin, flat membranes or gills line the rim of the bill. As the flamingo wades through marshes and lagoons, it scoops up muddy water with its bill and these membranes strain out food such as minute algae.

The flamingo's breeding season extends from December to February. Before mating, male and females undergo an elaborate courtship ritual, which they perform in unison. The female

lays a single egg in a nest built out of mud into a cone 12 to 24 inches (30 to 61 centimeters) high and 12 inches (30 centimeters) wide. Both parents incubate (sit on or brood) the egg for 27 to 30 days. The chick often leaves the nest just 12 days after hatching. Sometimes, it is carried under one of its parent's wings.

Habitat and current distribution

As the names indicates, Andean flamingos are found in the Andes Mountains in the South American countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. They usually occupy areas above 11,500 feet (3,505 meters). Biologists (people who study living organisms) believe the only major breeding site for Andean flamingos is in northern Chile. It is estimated that 26,000 Andean flamingos currently exist.

Andean flamingos prefer to inhabit salt lakes and to breed on small islands within those lakes.

History and conservation measures

The Andean flamingo once existed in great numbers. Now, this elegant bird is considered in jeopardy. As humans move deeper into its environment, the flamingo is threatened on many fronts. Human collectors steal its eggs. The body fat of the bird has historically been used as a rub to treat rheumatism, a disease of the joints. Mining operations pollute and destroy its habitat. Introduced wildlife species compete with it for food. Some, like the fox, prey directly on the bird. A long-term drought (lack of rain) in northern Chiles that began in 1987 has taken a huge toll on the population of the species.

With this in mind, efforts were started in the 1980s to protect the known breeding grounds of the Andean flamingo.